Review Summary: Succinctly charting the layman’s definition of “pop-punk”.
As ridiculous as it initially sounds, there may not be another band who has charted the layman’s definition of pop-punk as succinctly as Ohio quintet Hit The Lights. Beginning their career as a young, raw and free-spirited hybrid of early 2000s New Found Glory and Fall Out Boy, a lead vocalist change saw the outfit forced to adopt a more melodic style on their second LP ‘Skip School, Start Fights’. Now, come album number three ‘Invicta’, Hit The Lights make the predictable progression to maturing lyrics and a beefier, more slickly produced arena-ready sound… which mainstays of the genre would suggest is anything but pop-punk.
While it is nothing that has not been heard before, the enormous sounding production courtesy of Machine (Lamb of God, Four Year Strong) and Mike Sapone (Brand New, MC Lars) often lends an impetus which the band had previously lacked. The huge cavernous drums and glossy “woh woh” backing vocals of motivational opener ‘Invincible’ and second single ‘Earthquake’ are matched by the over-driven multi-tracked guitars on tracks like ‘Float Through Me’ and ‘All The Weight’. Electronics are also used to mixed results throughout ‘Invicta’, such as on the initially concerning beginning to lead single ‘Gravity’, which eventually acts as an effective set-up for Nick Thompson’s intense exclamation of “Right Now”. This anthemic stadium rocker has genuine crossover potential if some wise placement gets it heard by enough of the mainstream populous.
Unfortunately, ‘Invicta’ is ultimately over-burdened by sparse ballads such as ‘So Guilty’, ‘Should’ve Known’ and the attempt at a mini-epic that is closer ‘Oh My God’. These tracks just tend to float on by uninterestingly with no great purpose, other than to instil an ill-fitting spacey ambience which occasionally recalls Angels & Airwaves, 30 Seconds to Mars and more recent Linkin Park. Furthermore, without the racket and clatter in the background, these cuts tend to expose Thompson’s strained vocals a little more than desired. Faring worst is the ironically titled ‘Faster Now’, which comes complete with added synths and a programmed beat. While such relatively bold diversity is admirable, Hit The Lights would have been better served integrating such a dynamic into song segments only, such as the aforementioned beginning to ‘Gravity’ and the atmospheric opening minute of infectious penultimate track ‘Take Control’.
Those not foreseeing the aspiring direction with which Hit The Lights have taken their music here, may have missed the band’s hit and miss ‘Coast To Coast’ EP released in 2009. Containing a couple of interestingly chosen covers and a duo of well reworked acoustic renditions, the release could well have foretold Earthquake’s opening lyric of “I’ve got some big dreams”, since ‘Invicta’ clearly has an expanded audience on its mind. Unfortunately, the album’s lack of cohesion makes it clear for all to hear that it was recorded in separate sessions with the two aforementioned producers. While ranking their first two full-length releases was a black & white decision predominantly based on which lead vocalist a listener preferred, ‘Invicta’ is likely to get a similar split reaction based on which style of song one favors. Thankfully, the better half is satisfyingly enjoyable and has sufficient progression to make the album worth a listen.
Recommended Tracks: Gravity, Earthquake & Take Control.